Top 10 Summer Beers

Summer typically means higher temps and more time spent outside. Whether you’ve just finished mowing the lawn in the sweltering heat or are simply enjoying the cool night air, there’s certainly a beer that’s perfect for the occasion. As opposed to winter, when we long for stouts, porters, brown ales, barleywines and other styles on the darker, and often heavier, side of beer, summer months bring a thirst for lighter, more refreshing offerings. Here’s a list (in alphabetical order by brewery, not rank) of some of my favorite beers that are practically made for summer – some literally made for summer and offered only as seasonal releases, and others that are available year-round.

Bell’s Oberon

oberonHailing from just outside Kalamazoo, Michigan, Bell’s Brewery has been known amongst the craft beer scene for making some solid brew. Their summer seasonal, Oberon, is no exception. One of the most well-known summer seasonals – particularly in the northern and eastern states – this beer is characterized by a “refreshing mix of malted wheat flavor and fruity notes, wrapped up in a distinctively citrusy hop aroma”. I find it to be extremely well-balanced, not too light and certainly sessionable, making it an ideal summer companion.

 

Boulevard Tank 7

tank 7A great take on the Belgian farmhouse ale from a Midwest brewery known for their American wheat beer. This one is very drinkable and is characterized by a relatively high carbonation level, making it particularly refreshing during the hotter months. Though, I’d recommend it as a nighttime selection as the rich, boozy and syrupy facets come through which may not exactly be ideal for quenching a thirst or cooling you down.

 

Brasserie Lefèbvre SA Blanche de Bruxelles

blanche de bruxelles Perhaps one of the most popular witbiers around, Blanche de Bruxelles can usually be found in any city or town. As a true Belgian witbier, wheat makes up 40% of the grain bill making it a clean, easy-drinking and highly refreshing quaff. The coriander and orange peel are typical of the style, and Brasserie Le Lefèbvre SA incorporates them well. This one goes down super easy, and is now available in cans, making it great for sporting events, camping or wherever you need a brew.

 

Deschutes Hop Henge

hop henge Bringing something big into the mix, this double IPA is a limited release from Deschutes as part of their more experimental Bond Street Series. This is a big, complex and perfectly balanced imperial IPA with hops galore. However, the hop infusion is done very well with each of the recipe’s seven varieties bringing something different to the table. The beer has great substance and mouthfeel and a citrus character that is appropriately apparent from front to back.

 

Dogfish Head Noble Rot

noble rotWhen it comes to getting experimental, Sam C. and Co. are certainly at the forefront. Noble Rot is hard to confine to a particular style, but they themselves have referred to it as being a “saison-esque science project”. The beer uses unfermented juice from grapes (also known as “must”), specifically viognier and pinot gris, and claim that it is the closest thing to an equal combination of beer and wine that has been commercially released. It features all of the characteristics of a white wine and a saison. Needless to say, this one is very interesting and very tasty!

 

Dogfish Head Positive Contact

positive contactYes, Dogfish Head again… Classifiable as a witbier, Positive Contact is more like a “double” or “imperial” wit, simply because of its alcohol content – weighing in at 9% ABV. This limited release from Dogfish Head is characterized by a fruity, spicy and fresh complexity seldom seen in wheat beers, and its exceptional balance makes it a dangerously deceptive drinker in that the high ABV goes virtually unnoticed – tread lightly (and deliciously)!

 

Russian River Supplication

supplicationWhen I said brown ales don’t typically come to mind in the summer, I wasn’t talking about this one. A completely different take on your standard brown ale, Supplication is aged for about a year in pinot noir barrels with sour cherries and three different strains of Belgian yeast. The cherries and oak blend together perfectly and the sourness level is pretty high, which actually makes for a very refreshing sip that’s sure to please when temps rise. Though, don’t set your sights too closely on this one as it’s a seasonal release from a brewery that has limited distribution channels that they do not have any plans on expanding. For those of you on the West Coast that aren’t already aware, check it out!

 

St. Bernardus Wit

st. b wit Made by the same beloved Belgians that brought us the highly acclaimed Abt 12, their witbier is a much lighter offering that was created in collaboration with Pierre Celis, a master of the style (Hoegaarden/Celis White). It is described as having a “wheaty, apple-like tartness” with spicy notes from the coriander. It’s slightly sweet and offers the perfect carbonation level for a crisp, refreshing sip. This one is an exceptional example of the style, and in my opinion, you can’t ever go wrong with anything that St. Bernardus touches.

 

Three Floyds Gumballhead

gumballhead One of the most highly rated American wheat beers around, this beer was originally a summer seasonal that was moved to year-round production due to exceptionally high demand. The use of red wheat instead of the more common white variety often found in Belgian witbiers and German hefeweizens makes for a unique flavor profile with an ever-so-slight bitterness. Use that discerning palate of yours and you’ll even find some lemon!

 

Unibroue La Fin du Monde

la fin du mondeOne of my favorite tripels, this one is actually a tripel-style golden ale as it’s actually from Canada, not Belgium. Well-known amongst the beer community for the great aroma, mild yeastiness and fruit and spice-forward palate, this offering from Unibroue can be found almost anywhere and will undoubtedly make for a great summer evening. Though, personally, I think it pairs well with anything – food-, occasion- and season-wise.

Best Beer Quotes

 

I learned from beer

Beer, as we all know, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It can be enjoyed with the masses or in the comfort of complete solitude. But no matter whom you’re with or where you are, you can imbibe knowing that you’re enjoying that pint with many others all over the world, because beer simply has that global appeal. People from different geographic locations, different cultures, and different periods in time have had, and continue to find a great level of satisfaction in this timeless concoction. Since its creation, beer has been bringing us together, sparking great conversation, and has served as the inspiration for countless bright ideas and profound revelations from members of all areas of society and countries, the world over. With that said, here are some of my favorite quotes, inspired by yours truly…beer!

  •  “Drinking beer doesn’t make you fat; it makes you lean…Against bars, tables, chairs, and poles.” – Anonymous
  • “Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”– Dave Barry
  • I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer. – Abraham Lincoln
  • “Beauty lies in the hands of the beer holder.” – Kinky Friedman
  • “Give my people plenty of beer, good beer, and cheap beer, and you will have no revolution among them.” – Queen Victoria
  • “A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.” – Czech proverb
  • “Some see the glass as half full, others see the glass as half empty. I just wonder who the hell has been drinking my beer!” – Anonymous
  • “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of football team or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” – Frank Zappa
  • “Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.” – Kaiser Wilhelm
  • “Cerevisia malorum. divina medicina (A little bit of beer is divine medicine.)” – Paracelsus, 16th Century physician
  • “Beer has food value, but food has no beer value.” – Anonymous

 

Which Kegerator is Right for Me?

It’s very easy to get excited about making a kegerator purchase. The very nature of the product brings thoughts and images of great get-togethers, joyous celebrations, and all-around good times. It’s certainly not like shopping for new windshield wipers, or perhaps, say, napkin rings (if those things excite you, there’s absolutely no judgment here). But beer is something that instills a certain sense of excitement simply because it reminds us of fun, and oh-so-delicious, times. Mmm, beer…

Wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves! It’s important to remember that there are many things to consider when making a kegerator purchase. Will you enlist it to serve up large amounts of libations regularly, or only break it out for special occasions? Will you use it inside, outside, or both? Do you want to install it in your home bar area, or will it stand uncovered on its own, to bask in all its glory? These are just some of the many important questions you should ask yourself when deciding which kegerator to outfit your space with. Remember, there are a lot of kegerator models out there to choose from, but the one you choose will most likely become an official member of your household, so choose wisely!

There are more types of kegerators than you might think. There are a wide variety or full-size home kegerators, commercial kegerators for restaurant and bar use, and even mini kegerators, designed specifically for use with 5-liter “mini kegs”. The following will detail the capabilities and drawbacks of each type of kegerator, and will ultimately help you decide which one is right for you.

Full Size Home Kegerators

These kegerators are designed for personal use in your home and come in a great number of styles to suit all sorts of applications. They are great for those that like to keep larger quantities of beer and/or entertain guests often and are capable of holding full-size half-barrel kegs.

1/2 barrel keg

First, choose a model based on whether or not you want to use it indoors or outdoors. If you plan on using your kegerator exclusively indoors, there’s no need to shell out the extra cash for outdoor capabilities that you do not need. Full-size indoor kegerators can either be designed for freestanding or built-in (under-counter) installation. Freestanding models are fully-finished, fully-enclosed units that can stand on their own.

EdgeStar full size beer kegerator

EdgeStar KC2000

Additionally, most models include casters that allow you to move the unit about easily (as seen on the underside of the EdgeStar kegerator above). Though, freestanding kegerators require at least 3-4 inches of space between the back of the unit and wall, as well as 2-3 inches on each side in order to properly ventilate. Because the compressor is located on the back of the unit, there must be a sufficient buffer that allows the hot air produced by the compressor to escape. Using a freestanding kegerator in a built-in application could cause overheating and will undoubtedly compromise the unit’s performance overall.

So, if you’re looking to install your kegerator under cabinetry or another type of enclosure, built-in models are for you. Kegerators that are capable of built-in installation will always highlight the ability as a feature due to the fact that it’s the sole differentiator from a freestanding unit. Otherwise, built-in models tend to look very similar, if not identical, to their freestanding cousins. You can also usually spot them out because they typically have cooling systems that ventilate out of the front of the unit.

Summit triple tap built in kegerator

Summit SBC490BITRIPLE

This feature allows flush installation without a need for any extra space around the sides and back. Though some units on today’s market still vent from the back, but have an additional fan to help channel and force the hot air away from the cabinet. One downside of built-in kegerators is that they usually cost more due to a more complex cooling system design. Higher-end units are also completely enclosed, including the backside.

Now, if you want to use your kegerator outdoors full-time, say, in a patio entertainment area, or just want to have the ability to use it outside, say, for a backyard barbecue on the weekend, you should go with an outdoor kegerator.

Summit professional outdoor kegerator

Summit SBC490OS

 

These outdoor-specific units are different from those built for indoor use in that they have a weatherproof construction, made to outlast the elements. Additionally, they have increased insulation to keep your beer at the perfect temperature, and are also equipped with more powerful compressors that have greater cooling capabilities to combat extreme ambient temperatures. Keep in mind, outdoor kegerators will typically cost more than units made for indoor use due to these upgrades in design, functionality, and versatility.

Mini Kegerators

Don’t have the space for a full-size kegerator or just don’t have a need for a full-size keg? Then your best bet is a mini kegerator, which is small enough to sit on your countertop while taking up minimal space. They are designed to store and dispense beer from 5-Liter Kegs, which come in a variety of offerings.

EdgeStar mini kegerator

EdgeStar TBC50S

 

Mini-kegerators are perfect for people that prefer draft beer over bottled, but don’t like to commit to multiple gallons of a single beer. A mini-kegerator gives you the power to pour yourself a fresh pint as you would get at a bar, but from the comfort of your own home and without the premiums involved. Also, mini kegerators are great for European beer enthusiasts as many popular Eurobrews are sold in 5-liter kegs. These mini kegs can be tapped easily without having to purchase a European-specific coupler to fit the keg, as you would with a full-size keg.

It’s also important to be aware of the fact that mini kegs come in pressurized and non-pressurized varieties. Pressurized kegs come filled with the gas necessary to dispense the beer. All mini kegerators are able to dispense from pressurized kegs, making them the more convenient option. However, some of your favorite beers may only be offered in non-pressurized kegs, in which case you will need to make sure that your mini-kegerator has the ability to dispense from them. These mini kegerators will specify if they have the ability or will sometimes offer an additional kit that allows you to infuse gas directly into the keg. This gas cartridge system will add the perfect amount of gas to your keg on the spot, and will provide the pressure necessary to serve beer from the previously non-pressurized keg.

Koldfront mini kegerator

Koldfront KBC51SS

Commercial Kegerators

The biggest, and typically most expensive, breed of the bunch is the commercial kegerator. These are kegerators designed specifically for use in commercial settings, including bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. They are constructed of the highest quality materials and feature a sturdier design to withstand high usage levels.

True Single Kegerator

True TDD-1-S

Unlike many residential kegerators, commercial units often employ a different cooling method known as forced air cooling. Instead of using a cold plate within the refrigeration chamber to maintain internal temperatures, a fan forces cold air throughout the space. The result is a more evenly cooled space that allows all contents to reach and maintain the same temperature. With forced air cooling nothing within the kegerator can come in direct contact with cooling components. With cold plate cooling, you can get cold spots, where kegs that are closer to the plate will have a lower temperature.

Commercial kegerators are definitely not for everyone, as they carry a higher price tag, and can take up a lot more space. Additionally, larger commercial units are intended for a single point installation, and cannot be easily moved from place to place. However, they are ideal for businesses and even residential applications that demand the absolute best performance capabilities and durability.

While there are a tremendous amount of options and aspects to consider when picking your perfect kegerator, just remember that it’s a kegerator! I’m willing to bet that it’s one of the purchases in life you’ll be most excited to shop for. When you find the perfect fit and pour that first pint, be sure to raise it not only to your friends, but to your delicious draft beer-dispensing kegerator, too!

 

Craft Beer Club: Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale

I’ve always had respect for Lagunitas. Almost everything they brew is gold in my book. They’ve been at the forefront of the less conventional side of craft brewing, and their expertise truly shows through the beer they produce. They are your prototypical West Coast brewery – inducing flavorful and aromatic hops and blasts of wonderful complexities at any chance they get. However, unlike some other reputable West Coast names (Russian River, Ninkasi, 21st Amendment, Firestone Walker, etc.), they’ve managed to maneuver their way through endless amounts of state rules and regulations to establish impressive distribution lines, spreading the wealth across the far reaches of the U.S. And because of this, we are very happy to be able to get our hands on all the delicious beer they bring to the table. One of these treats that’s available year-round is an American pale wheat ale by the name of “A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’.”

A Little Sumpin Sumpin Ale

We can say right off the bat, that this beer always looks delicious. It pours a substantial white head you’d find in a wheat ale and an orange-amberish color and level of clarity more typical of a pale ale. The initial look can leave you with a certain sense of slight confusion, and perhaps a little apprehension, only to be immediately swept away upon first sip. The taste is reminiscent of a delicious West Coast IPA, but with a seemingly fuller body and bready character. Give it a swirl and you’ll release an enormous amount of absolutely amazing aromas. The hops don’t lend much to the piney aspect but rather take you on a trip into a floral and fruit-filled place with an abundance of grapefruit and other various citrus. It’s certainly on the sweeter side, but the hop bitterness provides a balance akin to that of an Olympic gymnast. The mouthfeel is beyond great and the alcohol is there but it’s not boozy at all – definitely a great beer to session, that’ll get the job done any time of year.

The style of A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ is obviously unique as it’s not too often that you come across a beer like this. It’s not a pale ale. Not a wheat ale. Nor is it an IPA. It’s just an awesome mixture of wheat and pale malts with loads of floral and fruity hop goodness. There isn’t a single thing about this beer that we would change. If your favorite pale ale and favorite wheat beer were to have a child – this would be it. We tip our hats to Tony Magee and all of Lagunitas Brewing Company for creating and maintaining their own path in the ever-growing jungle of craft brewing.

Craft Beer Club: Kona Koko Brown

This week we tried something from a brewery that we’d all like to visit – Kona Brewing Company in the far-off land of Hawaii. While they have many beers readily available for enjoyment, we decided to go with their Koko Brown – a nut brown ale with some island flair.

Kona Koko Brown

This is a nut brown ale unlike the rest of the pack. From what we’ve seen, craft brewers like to use nuts that are either readily available to them or don’t have to be shipped long distances even if they’re not within arm’s reach. Typically, in the contiguous U.S., we see flavors attributed to more widely-seen tree nuts like walnuts or pecans, but with this Hawaiian version, what other to use than the coconut? And that’s exactly what the crew at Kona did use.

The beer pours a brown that’s reminiscent of cola – not the deepest we’ve seen and it has a pretty thin and somewhat “soapy” head that dissipates fairly quickly. Right away, you can smell the coconut coming from the glass, however, the Victory and Chocolate malts, among others, bring that oh-so-wonderful caramel and chocolate presence to the palate. Start sipping and you’ll get the coconut, caramel and chocolate right off the bat. This beer is definitely on the sweeter side. It’s like a Mounds candy bar in a cup. The coconut is present from start to finish, but fades to a more roasted characteristic on the back-end. The mouth-feel is a little on the thin side but is completely sufficient.

Overall we like this one. It was definitely “a nut brown worth cracking”, and while it may not be an everyday drinker in our book, it’s definitely one worth revisiting. In fact, we envision it being even more enjoyable in the colder months. It is, after all, a winter seasonal. Good work, Kona.

Craft Beer Club: Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat

The days are only getting hotter here in central Texas – we’re almost at 100 degrees and it’s only May. We pretty much just accept the heat, as we don’t really have a choice. However, we do have choices when picking methods to ease the pain. One of our personal favorites is a nice cold beer. So, in honor of the season, this week we went with a style that’s just got that summery feel – Boulevard Brewing Company’s Unfiltered Wheat Beer.

Boulevard Wheat Beer

Touted as their “most popular offering, and the best-selling craft beer in the Midwest,” we were pretty excited to indulge. While some of us have had this tone before, there’s definitely nothing wrong with taking a stroll down memory lane.

If the color of this beer doesn’t shout “summer,” then I don’t know what does. It’s about as golden as the sun. No real orange or amber hues at all – yellow through and through with a cloudy appearance that you’d expect from an unfiltered wheat beer. Atop sits a nice clean white head that dissipates quickly. Give it a whiff and we’d swear we’re standing in the middle of a Midwest wheat field. America’s amber waves of grain were put to good use here as the aroma comes through with definite prominence. Give it another smell and we can also find some banana and an ever-so-slight breadiness that beg us to drink it.

No need to fight it, so on to the taste test! First impression – wow! This beer is really well-balanced. The wheat-heavy grain bill provides the perfect malt backbone while some of our favorite hops for the style (Simcoe & Summit) bring just a little bitterness to balance it all out. In our opinion, it’s carbonated to provide a refreshing mouthfeel that’ll keep you coming back. Luckily for us, at a relatively low ABV of 4.4%, this thing is dangerously drinkable. No surprise that it took a gold medal in the Session Beer Category at the 2008 Great American Beer Fest.

If you’re in search of the perfect summer quaff, put that iced tea down and pick up a 6-pack of this summertime treat. It’s available year-round, but there’s just something about the warm weather that accentuates this beer’s characteristics.

What do you think of Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat?

Craft Beer Club: Breckenridge Brewery Lucky U IPA

Our group of beer lovers is comprised of some members who are very fond of India Pale Ales. Since the Craft Beer Club’s inception, almost half of the beers we’ve tried have been of the IPA persuasion. As self-proclaimed hopheads, we decided to pick one up that we had yet to try. We chose Breckenridge Brewery’s Lucky U IPA due to the fact that we were familiar with the Breckenridge name, and have definitely enjoyed some of their offerings in the past.  Breckenridge Brewery produces their ales from Denver, in a state full of quality craft breweries – “A place where the beer flows like wine…” – Lloyd Christmas, Dumb & Dumber.

Breckenridge Brewery Lucky U IPA

We opened up these bottles to find a great color: golden orange with a decent white head that gave way to some decent lacing – looks the part, so we gave it a whirl. The nose was reminiscent of any signature IPA, but we didn’t have the easiest time pinpointing any distinct aroma characteristics. It was on the earthier side and had some very mild grapefruit notes. As for the taste… unfortunately, for us, the plethora of hops (Amarillo, Magnum, Perle, Cascade, Apollo, Fuggle, Goldings) just didn’t work out. Those are all great hop varieties, but the characteristics of each, in our opinion, just didn’t come together well. It may have been the quantities or usage, but we didn’t find any noteworthy or extremely delectable flavors or aromas within. As a potential consolation, with 68 IBUs, a nice bite would have been great, but to our disappointment, that wasn’t entirely there either.

Maybe we’re just not on the same wavelengths on this one? Maybe the pack went bad? Perhaps we’ll have to give it another go for the chance at redemption somewhere down the line. Either way, we mean absolutely no disrespect to Breckenridge as we’ve tried some of their other offerings in the past and enjoyed them. This one, however, just didn’t seem to hit the mark and didn’t really leave us feeling all that “lucky.”

Have you ever tried Lucky U? What did you think?

Craft Beer Club: Real Ale Devil’s Backbone

This week we decided to tap into our more deviant side with Devil’s Backbone, a Belgian-style Tripel from Real Ale Brewing Company located in Blanco, Texas (our neighbors!). This particular offering really lives up to its name (“named for a scenic ridge that runs between Blanco [TX] and Wimberley [TX]“) as it takes you on a wild ride to Flavortown.

Upon first look, we noticed that the labeling was different than previous batches:

Real Ale Devil's Backbone vs. Real Ale Devil's Backbone New Label

We’re actually big fans of the move as Austin artist Joey Marez does an amazing job at bringing the beer to life in visual form. We give it an “A” for packaging for sure.

Now let’s get to the beer…

This beer pours a richly-colored golden pale hue with a considerable white head and solid retention. There’s certainly some great lacing, and man, is this thing a treat to smell. The nose is full of clove and banana, but there’s a lot more going on as we caught citrus, apple, and even a slight breadiness. We were hoping the flavor would match the aroma, and it definitely did to a tee. All of the things we smelled were seamlessly transferred to our palates, adding subtle notes of spice and pepper. The body isn’t too thick or too thin, but JUST right – for the style and for general mouthfeel purposes. The full-flavored malty character combines with that signature Belgian yeast flavor to provide the perfect stage for the Czech Saaz hops to bring a nice amount of bite on the backend.  “Complex” might be a bit of an understatement for this beer, as it brings so much to the table and even presents noticeable changes from start to finish.

As a surprisingly smooth-drinking (for the ABV) “dynamic” beer, we don’t see ourselves getting tired of this one. We’ll definitely be back to support our fellow Texas Hill Country brethren in their brewing adventures.

Have you tried Devil’s Backbone? Let us know your thoughts on the beer in the comments!

Craft Beer Club: Rogue Mocha Porter

A small group of us here have recently decided to create a club of sorts that celebrates the glory of craft beer. We rounded up a 6-pack of members and came to the agreement that this should be a once-a-week deal, taking turns, with each person bringing something new and exciting when they’re up. We ultimately decided that we could truly reap something from our weekly beer journeys by sharing our experiences in the hopes of raising awareness of all kinds of handcrafted beers – some of which you may already know and perhaps some that you don’t.

This week’s offering comes from a Newport, Oregon-based brewery that’s been concocting delicious and unique ales since 1988:

Rogue Mocha Porter

rogue mocha porter

With a nice collection of awards, including the 2012 World Beer Award for “World’s Best Stout & Porter” and a 2010 Australian International Beer Award gold metal, expectations were pretty high. And we can definitely say that this one delivered.

It pours a nice dark brown color with a relatively thin head that sticks for a fairly short time. It smells of chocolate, coffee and caramel, three Cs that are expected for the style. With a body built from a generous malt bill, including Great Western 2-Row, various crystal, chocolate, black, Munich and Carastan malts, this beer isn’t too thin or too thick, however, the carbonation levels were pretty high and it seemed to have a certain bubbly essence to it.

The various malts and relatively mild Sterling and Perle hops work in harmony to create a well-balanced flavor that isn’t overly bitter or sweet. The chocolate is very apparent throughout, though changes from a more roasted and dark character up front to a slightly sweeter finish with the bitterness of the hops at the end. Amidst the hints of caramel lies a surprisingly dry backbone. While some of us don’t typically drink porters in the hotter months, this one is light enough to make it session-able and pleasing to the palate even when it’s nearly 100 degrees outside – like here in Austin.

Overall, this is a very drinkable porter that had the expected chocolate and coffee flavors with an unexpected and refreshing carbonation level. It all combined to make a brew that I’m sure we’ll enjoy again.